Labrador Retrievers – They’re Canadian

Welcome Canadian Thursdays, the day of the week when I talk about something or someone you may or may not have known is Canadian.

It always surprises me when someone doesn’t know what a Labrador Retriever is, especially if they’re a Canadian. Labradors are most commonly referred to as labs and I happen to have a big soft spot for them.

Black Labrador Retriever

The modern Labrador’s ancestors originated from Newfoundland, now part of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Labs descend from the St. John’s Water Dog, another breed from Newfoundland that most likely resulted from mixing Irish English and Portuguese working dogs. Labs sometimes have the adorable tuxedo markings of their ancestors, the St. John’s Water Dog, with white spots on their chest, feet and/or chin.

St. John’s Water Dog

The St. John’s Water Dog was utilized by fisherman to carry ropes and retrieve fishnets in the water and they later became known for waterfowl hunting. Labs are known to be great hunting companions particularly for duck hunting because they retrieve the birds and carry them with their soft mouth so that they don’t damage the bird.

From experience of growing up with three labs, caring for a litter of 9 puppies, and fostering a few other labs, I can tell you that stuffed birds that “quack” are the best toys you can buy for a lab. They will walk around with the toy in their mouth as if they were the King or Queen of Retrieving and they’ll be so proud to show it to you every time even if the toy bird’s head is falling off due to being carried around so much.

The modern Labrador breed was established by the first and second Earls of Malmesbury of England through importing and breeding St. John’s Dogs in England, which became known as the Buccleuch Avon dogs. The St. John’s Dog’s were called Labradors in England to distinguish them from the larger Newfoundland breed.

Newfoundland dog

Labs come in variations of three main colours: yellow, black, and chocolate. Yellow labs were established by English breeders in the 1980’s and chocolate labs came to be through crossbreeding with Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.

In addition to different colouring, Labs also have two main lines known as Confirmation, which is English or show-style, and Field, which is an American and working line. Conformation labs tend to be shorter, stockier and cuter because of their fuller face and Field labs are often taller, thinner and tend of have a longer nose.

Conformation yellow lab

Field Black Lab

Chocolate, Yellow, and Black lab

Conformation labs tend to be calmer and Field labs are often have higher energy levels. Many people may know of Labradors from the movie (or book) “Marley and Me.”  This movie bothered me not only because it has a sad ending but also because it gives labs a bad reputation. If you watch the trailer they say “the world’s worst dog” multiple times. Not all labs have the personality as portrayed by Marley. In my opinion, Marley was not a well-trained Field dog who needed more exercise and his behavior is a reflection of his owners. The Labrador Retriever has been the most popular dog breed (aka TOP DOG) since 1991 according to the Canadian Kennel Club, American Kennel Club, and UK Kennel Club! And it’s the most popular for a reason: because it’s a great dog to have.

Having grown up with a female Conformation black lab, a male Field chocolate lab and a handful of other black labs, I can tell you that each lab definitely has its own personality. It’s true that labs have a lot of energy and they love to play fetch and retrieve. It’s in their blood. And yes they love to chew everything when between six weeks and three years of age (like a human baby puts everything in its mouth) and maybe they will chew throughout their whole life, but it usually tapers off and becomes limited to their own toys.

It has happened on more than one occasion to come home and find a carpet or the armrest of a chair chewed to bits. However, I have never seen a lab rip through a house and destroy all the objects in its path like in the movie Marley and Me. Nor do most lab owners tie their dog up to a rickety patio table for cinematic effect when the dog takes off chasing after something like a bird. A well-trained lab would stare at the bird, maybe stand up and bark at it and it might start lunging towards it if it got closer, but it wouldn’t bolt after it.

They do like to play and if you make trying to get whatever they’re holding in their mouth a game, you will always loose. Labs, like any other dog breeds need to be properly trained. You need to teach them when its time to be serious and “work” and when its time to play. Labs love you unconditionally and they are outgoing and friendly. They stay by your side. They are known to be even-tempered and a great family dog.

The chocolate lab I grew up with will always be my favorite dog. No dog will be able to replace him and I still miss him. Man’s best friend.

You know you want one

Have you ever owned a lab? Did you know they were Canadian? What did you think of Marley and Me (movie or book) and its portrayal of labs?

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About Nicole Basaraba

Nicole Basaraba is a Canadian writer focusing on topics of travel (Mondays), writing and literature (Wednesdays), lifestyle (Fridays) and her experiences living in the capital city of Europe: Brussels, Belgium.
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4 Responses to Labrador Retrievers – They’re Canadian

  1. Jenny Hansen says:

    These are some seriously cute doggie pics!! I’ve always loved Newfoundlands and, no, I didn’t think about the Canada/Labrador relationship but I should have. :-)

  2. One of our sons has a yellow lab and he’s a sweetheart … just don’t leave any good shoes sitting around!

  3. Anita Mac says:

    We had a labradoodle growing up….but she was totally a lab at heart!

  4. I love these pictures. I have my own Lab–square face. I don’t know if it’s Canadian. Doesn’t matter. She’s the star of the house.

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